Interesting new research from The University of Reading shows that poorly organised language provision can “have a major effect on the success of military intervention”.

Languages at War examined two conflicts, Western Europe in 1944-1947 and Bosnia 1995-1998, and found that language was essential to how effective ground troops are. The researchers discovered that being able to understand local people and get accurate translations was vital and depended on properly trained and professionally respected interpreters. Often interpreters are used in other capacities and not seen as professionals with an essential skill.

Professor Hilary Footitt from the University of Reading’s Department of Modern Languages and European Studies led the project. She said: “From the First World War, on to the liberation of Europe in 1944, in Korea, in Afghanistan, soldiers have needed to talk to foreign allies and foreign civilians. Indeed General David Petraeus, Commander of US/NATO forces in Afghanistan has said the ‘human terrain is decisive’.

“Our research project has highlighted the need for the military to see languages as a vital part of their operations, and to plan for them accordingly. They need to respect locally recruited translators/interpreters, and make sure that these men and women have the professional structures to do their jobs properly. Languages are not an optional ‘add on’. They’re essential to winning hearts and minds.” (Source: University of Reading)

Language learners have long known that being able to communicate in another language is a great way of connecting with people – hopefully this research will help the military realise it also.